Glenbard North junior Justin Jackson has been named Gatorade Illinois Football Player of the Year.
Jackson, a running back and defensive back, is the first Gatorade Illinois Football Player of the Year to be chosen from Glenbard North.
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Jackson as Illinois' best high school football player as chosen by the company. Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award announced in December, Jackson joins an elite alumni association of past state award-winners in 12 sports, including Mark Sanchez (2004-05, Mission Viejo HS, Calif.), Wes Welker (1999-00, Heritage Hall HS, Okla.), Terrell Suggs (1999-00, Hamilton HS, Ariz.), Anquan Boldin (1998-99, Pahokee HS, Fla.) and Jerome Bettis (1989-90, Mackenzie HS, Mich.).
The 6-foot, 175-pound junior running back rushed for 2,612 yards and 35 touchdowns on 421 carries this season, leading the Panthers (12-2) to the Class 8A championship game. A Class 8A first-team all-state selection as named by the Illinois Football Coaches Association, Jackson also hauled in 19 catches for 284 yards and two touchdowns. In five Class 8A playoff games, he totaled 901 yards and 13 touchdowns on 166 carries.
Jackson has maintained a 5.00 weighted GPA on a 5.0 scale in the classroom. In addition to serving as a member of his school's French Club, he has volunteered as a youth basketball coach.
"Our conference is one of the best in the state year in and year out, and unfortunately for all of us he's only a junior, so we'll have to deal with him for another year," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. "But I love to see him compete. He's a special athlete. When you watch him play, he has a toughness and a will to win about him. He's not afraid to put that team on his back. He's the best player in the state of Illinois, and there are some pretty good ones out there."
Jackson joins recent Gatorade Illinois Football Players of the Year Blake Winkler (2011-12, Lincoln-Way East High School), Reilly O'Toole (2010-11, Wheaton Warrenville South High School), Christian Lombard (2009-10, William Fremd), Chris Watt (2008-09, Glenbard West High School) and Steve Filer (2007-08, Mount Carmel) among the state's list of former award winners.